Monday, August 29, 2011

Busy Busy

Busy busy this weekend. I composed four paintings, drawing out three and transferring them to panel. These are: Imaginary Flight Of The Victorious Narcissist and Iterations Of Isolation (the composition of those was largely complete, I just had to draw them), Love Without Sex (new composition of an idea from 2009) and Giant Looking At His Friends The Clouds which was composed but nothing more done yet. This is about as fast as I can work.

On Friday the picture above was put on display in the Lyceum Theatre, it's called The Resurrection Of The Lyceum In 1911 and was painted for the theatre's centenary celebrations which are now taking place. It's my largest painting to date (about 1x1.5 metres) and took about 28 full days to create.

Today I've been painting again, a picture called The Mathematics of Nazimova, which is actually a repainting of one I started in January. That one wasn't accurate enough for me, but it looked pretty enough so it took some time for me to decide whether it was worth repainting. It was, and the new version is more accurate, and is smoother despite taking just one day; the other took two. Incidentally, Nazimova is the name of a silent film star, the painting is nothing to do with Nazis!

My exhibition in Sevens in Macclesfield closes today and was a success, resulting in at least the sale of two limited edition prints. I sold a painting earlier in the month in Macclesfield too, making this a good month for painting sales. In September I'll aim to paint my remaining ideas and try to complete as much as possible before writing music in October.

My biggest mistake of the past couple of years has been changing track, chasing competitions and opportunities that require new artwork, thus satisfying those demands at the expense of my original ideas. From now on I'll try to fit my ideas into shows instead of trying to tailor-make art for competitions. Sometimes this is necessary, when a theme is supplied, but I'll try not to spend too long working on things like that.

Back to work. Zip zip! Have a productive day folks!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Reliquary Progress

Here is the state of my reliquary so far. Once you get down to joints needing to be less than 1mm, the slightest thing can throw the box into chaos. Most of the work so far has been working out how to get everything level, a procedure like a puzzle so that each stage is done correctly. It's not been easy and there's a mistake here...

>The strip down the centre will be the inside edge of double doors. These must fit neatly, and the back must be very level so that the door swing is also level... you want the doors to open in a clean horizontal sweep and shut so that they fit exactly. This has proved to be incredibly hard, the arch shape complicating everything yet more... how do you exactly line up four gothic arches without any reference marks?

Here the centre parts are veneered and facing each other. Everything is held level on top of the back so that this represents the doors in a closed position. Even now though things aren't level and the natural spring and slight warp of the wood has knocked things out at the bottom and sides by a millimetre or two. The veneer though should be longer than the centre strip; it should extend the full length of the edge, bottom to top. That's the mistake. I'll have to remove the centre bits and start again.

At times I've felt like Leonardo da Vinci, thinking and pacing anxiously but not actually doing anything, but I can't help but aim for perfection. There is always a point when enough is enough, when it's time to "get it done". Now I've got a step-by-step plan, the rest should be less difficult.

I'm starting to love plaster again because of this and the front of this cabinet will be a gilded bas relief. My epoxy resin really sinks in to toughen it... hopefully without changing the dimensions too much! My plan is to carve it when dry, glue with P.V.A. and then tougen with epoxy before gilding. I'm performing many tests on plaster adhesion and toughness.

Once these centre parts are lined up and veneered correctly I'll stick on the two arched front doors, then add the aluminium etched edges and hinges. Then the inner veneering and interior decoration... after that the important parts of this box will be complete.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rules for Artists

Things are getting better. After two days my epoxy resin set well and the frames were saved. I was using a new type; epoxy casting resin from A.B.L. Stevens, and I now know that it takes 48 hours to set, not 24. It's brilliant stuff, useful for casting, as a super-gloss wood varnish, sealer, and painted onto plaster or clay it will sink in and really toughen it up. I'm going to use some rubber balls to assist in scanning my paintings, but enough! of such things for now.

I've been re-analysing my state after spending far too long on the physical problems of woodwork. I must get back to making art and to re-inspire me I've looked at my book of spells, my rules and procedures for creation. Among them I found my "Rules for Artists" that I wrote a few years ago. I thought I'd share them.

1. Make good art.
2. Analyse each picture coldly to ensure that it is good. Analyse its good and bad elements. Analyse its emotional content and contrasts. Analyse its techniques. Calculate how it could have been better. Make detailed notes during painting and you will learn from your mistakes more easily.
3. It is better to paint one good picture than one hundred average ones.
4. It is better to paint one bad picture than none at all.
5. Do not think about an idea so long that you corrupt it. After a time limit, destroy a failing idea and start again.
6. Do not be lazy. Do not cut corners.
7. Do not flood your own market.
8. Make your art worth a high price and charge that high price. Great artists die of poverty. Foolish artists live in poverty.
9. You will dislike all of your pictures, expect this, and ignore this. Tell the world your art is great.
10. Paint beautiful. A good picture awes art critics, small children and ignoramuses. Please all three.
11. Include an element of mystery in every picture.
12. Under state and over prove.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Well I've had a busy but unproductive week. As good results refused to appear I did my usual step of working at double speed but those results weren't any good either and I've ended up with nothing.

So let's see what happened.

Last Friday I decided to spend a week making the box for my reliquary, an arched shaped box. I'd already cut one arch from a solid piece of wood and decided to cut two more. The edges were not level, and in fact too unlevel to be useful. My plan was to level up the sides with plaster, which would be easily sanded down later. For that I had to find a process or way to work out what WAS level in the first place because all three parts had to fit together. That was tricky and used square tubes of aluminium bolted together. I did that, and applied plaster to the inside. Here are the three arches which the white plaster inside...

That took three days. NOW, that was all well but the plaster wasn't level either, AND it didn't stick to the wood and began to flake off (I really should have used wood filler) and worse, the water soaked into the wood and made the edges swell. The arches were still too even to use and I'd wasted days of work and two big sheets of M.D.F. making some useless shapes. Back to the drawing board.

I had to restart from scratch. The key element of these was similarity. The exact curve of the arch wasn't that important but it had to be the same as the others so I decided to cast the edge, and for that needed one master arch, a shape that I could make a mould for an duplicate. I decided to get this by casting a solid block of plaster (3kg) and carving out the shape. Here it is so far...

The edges are rather rough. I'm letting it dry. This took the rest of the week. The thing is, even if this succeeds I'm not going to be able to screw hinges into a plaster wall, so I'll have to cast it in something tougher. Sigh, the wood option seems better for this reason. So far I've put 11 full days work into this and spent £167.75 on materials and have nothing at all to show for it but those objects. Still, this has to be done.

Amazingly, the week got worse. Four of the eight frames I spectacularly cut in one day ended up ruined through different means, as I tried to decorate them. Three were beautifully coated in epoxy resin, but in the wrong mix ratio, and one was spray painted in the most ugly way and it's plaster parts began to flake off. I might use it anyway because it's sorry state might suit the painting.

Today I began scanning the Lyceum painting, this my largest painting has taken 27 full days so far and is on a heavy solid surface. During the process I scratched it down the centre irreparably damaging it. The damage is fortunately slight, but will remain visible.

In these circumstances I can only list the things I've learned and move on.

1. Always measure epoxy resin by volume, even if equivalent weight ratios are supplied.
2. Don't scan a painting until it's several months dry. I'll have to develop a new method for something this large and heavy too.
3. The arches... where to begin! Don't use a hand jigsaw... but I have no other option. A table band saw would have been much better. Plaster doesn't adhere to wood (although it does sometimes!). Use wood filler to fill wood, although I don't know which sort would work best here or if it would have worked anyway.
4. Keep on trying new things. Although this is more a philosophy than a lesson. If there is a lesson from this week it's STOP trying new things!

My goal for August is to finish the reliquary cabinet. That is all. I have ten more days to work at it. I wonder if hinges will screw into an epoxy resin cast and hold firm? They'll need to take a lot of weight. I don't think they will. Oh for a band saw!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Tick tick! After Monday, which was effectively a day off, I slept for eight hours and made eight frames on Tuesday. This is about the most I can make in one day. Each sawed by hand (32 bits, 64 cuts) then marked and drilled for the special batons I fit that have room for screw eyes and mirror plates. 64 holes, each countersunk. Then staining and assembly, one frame per night because I have only one band clamp.

On Wednesday, work on my love reliquary. Three models made; a sad angel, Rapunzel's tower (shown) and the embrace. I researched how to flatten out my veneer and how to fletch a medieval arrow. I'll need 1mm zinc sheets, epoxy resin and at least four pheasant feathers. Design of the paintings ground to a halt. I've been feeling so tired these days. The pain in my throat which has plagued my life for eighteen months was recently identified as a "tonsilith" which are often dormant but sometimes mischievous. Mine hurts with a dull pain in daily pulses, just a little, like a clothes peg on an earlobe or the snap of a giant rubber band enrobed with thin fur on the upper arm. I place this thing firmly in the mischief category.

I watched the film Watchmen, an excellent film about love and the conquest of loneliness. I decided then that there are only two great artworks: human relationships (personal) and science - the origins and fate of the universe etc. (cosmic).

Painting the Birth of Venus today, a painting from months ago that began large and gradually shrunk to a more manageable size. I've found it hard to focus and remained tired to the extreme all day despite sleeping for ten hours. I attribute this to an attack of entropy, the gradual onset of chaos, death, injury, decrepitude. I'll fight it with exercise and discipline.

I'll finish the Venus underpainting tomorrow.

In national and international news the 1930's have returned. This is good news for surrealists. It is a good time to buy shares. World War three might occur within a decade.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Love and Macclesfield

Trumpets! A busy weekend concluded for the better. Friday was the opening of Celebrating The Diversity at The Cubby Hole at my new tusty clonking cane was an excellent addition to my attire if a little awkward when juggling a Mr. Kiplings Cherry Bakewell AND a balloon glass of fine red wine. The gold spectacles were a visual success although covering the eyes can hinder communication and so I felt like removing them half of the time. The beret generated heat. The whole place was hot and got hotter as the evening progressed. A giant artwork was painted and I contributed some insects, birdy footprints and one or two flowers of little consequence.

On Saturday I finally completed and signed off my giant Lyceum painting. I tell myself that I've learned something but this might not be true. The days when I noted down what I'd learned and the problems I'd had are largely in the past. So what have I learned? A few technical processes regarding the priming of perspex, how to paint and store (while drying) large heavy artworks, and the use of a horizontal metal bar to rest my maul stick on. A new plastic clip for the top of my stick to stop it wavering. These are minor technicalities. What else?!...

Firstly I wasted too much time chasing detail down an ever shrinking spiral staircase. Contouring the rocks and other large details and shading them simply would have saved time and looked better (perhaps... the rocks were a disappointment at the time but on the final day I looked at them in amazement quite absorbed by the craters and canyons of the planet Mars that they seemed to actually be - perhaps the war that this painting became was itself reflected in the very rocks that caused the tension?)

The feathers looked quite bizarre and would have been much faster to paint if painted with the texture of fire, which in the end adorned not the phoenix but the grass at its feet (this detail has to be seen in person and it worth it - as can often the be case the final unplanned flourishes of flair and élan make all the difference). The tree should have been painted over a smooth sky, I think that's undoubted. Analysis complete.

>Now on Sunday I collected paintings from Bickerton. No sales. Works that did sell were typically small £40-£100 and of cats, flowers, landscapes and pretty things like that. Little originality.

Today I set up my exhibition at Sevens of Macclesfield. The nice shop owner Terry did most of the work and even offered to hang the lot for me, which made everything so much easier. The exhibition runs until the 27th.

Finally progress is being made on The Love Reliquary, a triptych encased in a cabinet inspired by the art of the medieval reliquary. Here is the latest photo...

Olé! Onward to greater things! as the trumpets fade to cellos.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Anxiety and Diversity

Well I've had a busy few days working on the Lyceum painting. The deadline for this was very tight and suddenly shifted up by two weeks meaning this, my most important and most public work for aeons, will not be finished to my standard. The stress of this combined with a long awaited diagnostic visit to the hospital pushed me into a couple of days of illness caused by inward spiralling anxiety. I have a highly neurotic personality which is a curse and a blessing. The mind carves paths and the unconscious follows the same path each time; this is a "routine". Most boring ordinary people boringly and ordinarily do the same thing and think the same thing and behave the same way all of the time. To change your routine causes anxiety because stress chemicals are required to disrupt and destroy the neural paths. Anxiety then is a tool for rubbing out and relearning something rapidly. Perhaps, I hypothesize, it's a key to imagination.

Things are now flowing smoothly and I'm nearing the long march towards the completion of this work. The painting has taken longer than any other, 25 8-hour days so far. Painting a large picture on canvas isn't easy but on a smooth panel the detail level can ramp up as high as ones obsessions will permit! I've spent long hours delving into the minutiae of feather fronds and leaves. The result is quite fantastical. It will still end up going on show unfinished. Nobody will notice.

In other news I'm making progress on The Love Reliquary. It's a box with arched edges and these gave been cut from 24mm M.D.F. ready for veneering. This stage is the most crucial because perfect geometrical accuracy is essential. The craft of good woodworkmanship is that of perfect joints, no gaps, no wobbles, no angles, just perfectly fitting engineering. It's a challenge.

In other news I have a couple of exhibitions coming up and the first is Celebrating The Diversity. It opens at The Cubby Hole on Friday (tomorrow). It's fancy dress and we're coming as mad artists and/or bohemians. Anything I wear will qualify. I want my outfit to involve a cape of pure gold. This show includes works by lots of local artists, crafters and first time creators. It's an eclectic mix, the perfect community show. We're all adding one piece to a large collaborative bit too. It feels different and refreshing from other art shows because it's about give and take.

On Sunday I'm collecting my work from Bickerton and on Monday setting up a new show in Sevens of Macclesfield. Tomorrow though I return to the peaceful solitude of the ascetic artist as I slowly and ideally by the very candlelight of Saint Luke, but probably by the sun, paint more phoenix feathers on this megalithic artwork.